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German scholarship and of the cordial good-will of German scholars for those of other lands. The Berlin congress completed the transformation of the amateurish gathering of ten years ago into a wellorganized scientific body, and great credit is due to the efficient and tactful president, Dr. Reinhold Koser, Director of the Prussian Archives, and to those inspired and inspiring scholars, Professors Eduard Vever and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, who with the president constituted the organizing committee.

The next international historical congress will be held in London in September, 1913, under the general management of the British Academy



The question, “What is History?" is closely connected with that deepest of all questions, “What is Human Life?". For, whatever in reality human life may be, history is the record of its development, its progress and its manifestations.

I have said “ the record” rather than the historic process itself, because that is the phase of the subject with which the historian has primarily to deal. What this process really is, what is its inherent principle of change, what are the categories of its manifestations—these are questions for the philosopher rather than the historian to discuss.

But, in truth, the historian cannot separate himself from some conception-general or specific, positive or negative, real or idealof the process whose transmutations he describes. Even if he were able to do so, language has already settled that question for him ; for he cannot tell the simplest story without some implications regarding the nature of the process which forms the substance of his narrative.

Frankly, then, the fundamental problem for the historian is to determine the peculiar nature of his task; and he is greeted at the very threshold of his inquiry with the questions: What is the purpose for which historical science exists? What is the nature of historic truth ? How does history differ from other sciences ? How does the historic process appear as seen from within ? And what in consequence is the chief function of the historian?

Without attempting to give a definite answer to all or any of these difficult questions, of which the majority of my colleagues in this congress, from deeper knowledge and riper experience, are much better qualified than I to express opinions, and with an acute sense of my limited attainments in this vast field of inquiry in which many of my countrymen have rendered themselves far more entitled to be heard, I shall, nevertheless, venture to touch upon some of these topics in such a manner as to emphasize one function of the historian that seems to me from the nature of history as a science to be worthy of our attention.

1 An address delivered at the opening of the International Congress for Historical Sciences, at Berlin, on August 6, 1908.



If, as will perhaps be generally admitted, the purpose of history is to reinstate the past and render it intelligible by a rigorous separation of fact from fiction, it is only by a gradual process that mankind has arrived at that conception. As in the contemplation of nature, so in the first estimate of human deeds, wonder rather than exact comprehension was undoubtedly the chief source of inspiration. The unusual, the extraordinary in every sense, most attracted attention, impressed memory and stimulated phantasy. The earliest traditions were, therefore, of great heroes and great occasions, while the phenomena of ordinary life, like the habitual course of nature, passed without observation and left no trace behind. Depending entirely upon the accidents of memory, modified from generation to generation by unconscious imaginative accretions, the saga and the legend for long ages satisfied the needs of primitive men in relation to the past.

With the invention of the art of writing, inscriptions, annals and chronicles gradually superseded the more fluid medium of oral tradition, and gave to the record of human events a more fixed and definite character. But the same tendencies of mind that stimulated imagination in the saga and the legend continued to act, and imparted even to written documents the quality of unconscious falsification.

Until this tendency was restrained by a counteracting influence sufficiently potent to repress it, history as a science was of course impossible; and it is interesting to note that, although in previous ages men were often ready to die for what seemed to them the truth, the faculty and conception of reverence for truth as such, and for itself, apart from its personal, party, or national consequences, are, even in the modern world, comparatively recent acquisitions. As Lord Acton, speaking of the scientific sense of truth, has tersely said, “The notion and analysis of conscience are scarcely older than the year 1700; and the notion and analysis of veracity are scarcely older than our time, barring certain sacred writings of East and West."

It is a noteworthy fact that about the time assigned by Lord Acton to the rise of the notion and analysis of conscience-namely the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century--the natural sciences were already showing signs of a new life, and historical science was just beginning. It was in 1681 that the great work of Vabillon, De Re Diplomatica, which created the science of determining the age and authenticity of documents, first appeared, the supplement being published in 1704. About the same time, in 1690, appeared the Histoire des Empereurs of Le Nain de Tillemont, who, according to Monod, was “the first to teach how historical truth is arrived at by rigorous analysis and comparison of texts". It was in the year 1700 that Muratori began at Vodena to gather and edit the documents which form his great compilation of authentic texts. In 1708, Montfaucon laid the foundations of Greek epigraphy by the publication of his Palaeographia Graeca, soon afterward followed by the great collections of texts for French history. In Germany, Leibnitz, in 1700, founded the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences at Berlin, and began, in 1707, his Scriptores Rerum Brunst'icensium, the originality of which, according to Wegele, consisted in “relying upon authentic testimony and rejecting baseless traditions ".

Men had, no doubt, long valued truth, as they understood it; but there is a fundamental difference between the unreflective conscience which instinctively feels the baseness of intentional falsehood, and the scientific conscience which' values truth in and for itself, and aims to establish it in a scientific manner. It is the valuation of truth simply because it is truth that underlies and vitalizes all our modern science and has compelled us to reconstruct our entire conception of the universe and of our human past.


What, then, is the part of the historian in the enterprise of establishing the truth? To answer that question we must first inquire, What is the essential character of the materials with which the historian has to deal? Every adept in historiography knows how dim and vague were the notions of the early chroniclers, apart from all conscious deception, regarding the precise lines of division between the actual, the probable and the possible; and how easily, without intention, they glide from one to another of these categories in their efforts to construct wc belle histoire !

All contemporary historians are of course agreed that these categories should not be confused; but the task of truth-telling is embarrassed not only by the temptation to fill a lacuna in the records with a well-meaning act of imagination based on probability or possibility, but also by the unconscious pressure of the historian's personal system of ideas derived from the II'cltanschauung of the time in which he lives or of the school of thought in which he has been trained.

The development of historiography reveals the manner in which

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the ruling philosophy or the Zeitgeist of each age has permeated and colored the conception of the historic process. “ Der Sinn für die Wirklichkeit" is no doubt always present in the mind of the historian ; and it is not doubtful that, as Wilhelm von Humboldt described it, “ Die Aufgabe des Geschichtsschreibens ist die Darstellung des Geschehenen"; but the idealist and the materialist, the mystic and the rationalist, will always, and almost inevitably, though quite unconsciously, permit his own peculiar apprehension of the ultimate nature of reality to affect the choice and interpretation of the data he employs and the whole character of the edifice he constructs.

There is, however, so much the greater necessity for exactly comprehending the essential nature of historic truth and distinguishing it as far as possible from the great body of conceptions which constitute the philosophical W’eltanschauung of the age in which we live; for, while the various sciences often throw light upon one another, and our cosmic conception, as a whole, may receive valuable contributions from them all, each of them may likewise suffer injury by an unwarranted importation into them of principles borrowed from other sciences which possess a different character.

It is, therefore, worth while to bear in mind that there are two aspects of reality which have to be treated in quite different ways. It is a postulate of modern science that there exists in the universe a fixed amount of energy, never increased or diminished, and all phenomena are believed to be manifestations of this primordial energy. Some of these phenomena appear in an order of coexistence in space, others in an order of succession in time; and it is with these transformations in time that history has to deal. But there is another aspect of phenomena not less important for history than transformation in time. The resemblances and differences of phenomena are both quantitative and qualitative. It is with the latter chiefly that history has to deal; for, while the quantity of coexistent energy always remains the same, the qualitative differences among phenomena appear to be always increasing in variety and complexity in the order of succession.

If, for illustration, we pass from physico-chemical to biological phenomena, and from these to psychological phenomena, in the progressive order of natural evolution, we notice that, while the quantity of energy is supposed to remain the same, there is an ever-increasing variation of qualitative differences, until in the ascending scale of organisms we arrive at man, who, standing at the head of the biological series, possesses a greater diversity and com

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